MACHINE GUN MAGIC
If they try to act like citizens
And rent them a nice little flat,
About the third night
They're invited to fight
By a sub-gun's rat-tat-tat.
In the 1967 motion picture, "Bonnie and Clyde," as actress Faye Dunaway recites from Bonnie Parker's poem,
"The Story of Bonnie and Clyde," she quotes the stanza reproduced above, verbatim. In the original poem, the
term "submachine gun" is shortened to "sub-gun." It's a minor point, but even in this abbreviated form, the word's
meaning is not lost upon the audience. Having witnessed a spectacular display of full-automatic pyrotechnics
earlier on in the film (the Platte City tourist court gunfight), viewers know precisely what she's talking about.
"Sub-guns" are Thompson submachine guns.
It makes no never mind that the real New Deal desperado Clyde Barrow committed the majority of his depriva-
tions armed with either a sawed-off shotgun or a BAR lifted from some National Guard armory. This newsletter is
dedicated to all things Thompson. Since, "Bonnie and Clyde," producer actor Warren Beatty stocked his motion
picture with tommy guns, it is appropriate for us to give pause and celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release of
this classic gangster film. Doubly appropriate since the majority of those same said submachine guns were of
incorrect vintage for the 1931-1934 time frame depicted in the movie.
It's true. If you have, "Bonnie and Clyde," on DVD or VHS, give it a watch. Of the seven Thompsons that you'll
see on the screen, five-and, possibly, all seven-are Model 1928Als of World War II manufacture. Two of these guns
have Lyman adjustable rear sights. The other five are fitted with stamped "L" rear sights. As anyone who has read,
THOMPSON: THE AMERICAN LEGEND, knows, the "L" rear sight was adopted in 1941.
While Thompson purists might complain, this faux pas does not detract from the film's overall entertainment
value. Accessorized with vertical fore grips and the infamous Hollywood self-replenishing "L" drum magazine
("never runs out of ammunition"), these military veterans perform admirably.
If anything, one can gripe that the, "Bonnie and Clyde," TSMGs are given too little screen time. Our favorite
gangster icon is fired on camera in only two of the five scenes it appears in. But what an impression the gun makes
in these key sequences!
The first is the aforementioned Platte City shootout. Hollywood has always misrepresented the .45 ACP caliber
Thompson submachine gun as being just slightly less powerful than an atomic bomb, so the Barrow gang easily
decimates man and machine as they escape this police trap. The action takes place at night. The muzzle flash light
show is mesmerizing.
The second drum roll of thunder conies at the conclusion of the motion picture. In Realty's version of the May
23,1934 ambush that ended the lives of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, six lawmen accomplish the task, each
officer armed with a M1928A1. Filmed in slow motion by director Arthur Penn, the resulting ballet of death has
been called one of the most visually explosive moments in all of cinematic history. Not a bad day's work for six